As we get ready for Saturday night's Dads'
Day Night game between Oregon St. and visiting Arizona St., the Beavers and Sun Devils are both at something of a cross-roads with their seasons, which got off to starts that exceeded all expectations, and there are intriguing questions about both teams.
To address them, we got together with Brad Denny, the editor down at the House of Sparky.
Here's what Brad had to say about things we at BTD were curious about.
Right now, all three are uncertain for Saturday, although there is hope, especially with Sutton and Onyeali. The difference that Sutton's absence has made is staggering. With him playing at his All-American level, the Sun Devils boasted a top 10 defense. Without him, they've given up 88 points and 618 yards rushing over the last two weeks. His dynamic play completely alters the defense. So far, he's gone through light work at practice, but even if he does go, I doubt it will be at 100%.
Onyeali is a talented a quick pass rusher, and if he can't go, his loss will be felt but not nearly to the degree of Sutton. Martin underwent an MRI on his elbow, and seems confident that he will play. Recently, he has lost a lot of playing time to Anthony Jones, but he's still a talented player.
If any combination of them can't play, or are significantly limited, does Arizona St. make any changes to their defensive scheme to help compensate? Or does the look and approach remain the same?
The 3-3-5/3-4 scheme that brings a ton of pressure from all angles will remain the same, but it won't be nearly as effective.As mentioned above, Sutton was arguably the Pac-12 top defensive player prior to his injury, and was unblockable in several games this year. ASU's lack of depth has really become apparent in recent weeks, especially along the line, so you may see even more blitzes from ASU's quick linebacking corps on Saturday.
Will it be all Taylor Kelly and no Michael Eubank as long as the game is still in question? It seems that coach Todd Graham had been running some packages specifically for Eubank, but not against UCLA. Has Graham decided to go 100% with Kelly now?
In my opinion, Kelly's emergence as a top-flight Pac-12 quarterback has been one of the biggest surprises in all of college football. No one saw him becoming a legitimate playmaker and one of the country's highest rated quarterbacks. Early in the year, there were packages for the ultra-talented but raw Eubank, but it often disrupted offensive rhythm. That disruption, combined with Kelly's strong play, have clearly made this Kelly's offense. At this point, Eubank will only see meaningful snaps due to injury or a lopsided score.
Will it be running back by committee by design for the Sun Devils, or has that been more a product of circumstances?
All offseason long, Todd Graham touted that Cameron Marshall would be the centerpiece of the offense and get "30 touches" per game. Coming off a 1,000-yard, 18-touchdown season, that sounded practical. However, Marshall struggled with nagging injuries, fumbles and general ineffectiveness and while he is the listed starter, is really the third option.
True freshman DJ Foster and juco transfer Marion Grice have proven to be the offense's best players. Foster is very fast, explosive and versatile. He lines up both as a running back and a wide receiver and shows a refined game that goes beyond his years. Grice has been somewhat of a surprise, but his power running and receiving skills have resulted in 12 touchdowns already. Combined with a weak wide receiver group, these two players are far and away the Sun Devils' most important weapons.
What has been the mind set around the team after back to back losses, one a blowout to Oregon, and then a heart breaker against UCLA?
In previous years under Dennis Erickson, it would be bleak, and a total collapse would be forthcoming. However, Graham has been very successful in turning around the culture and mental toughness of the program, so while the wins may not come in the next few weeks, his Sun Devils will be focus, disciplined and without an ounce of quit in them. Given where this team and program were just 10 months ago, that feat is pretty remarkable.
Coach Graham has done a great job so far in his first year, especially given the late start he got. But the Sun Devils are now in the meat of a tough schedule, and have lost 2 in a row, with road trips to Oregon St., USC, and then down to Tucson all still to come.
Will Sun Devil fans see it as a satisfactory first year even if things don't go so well the rest of the way?
That's a very timely question. All this week, there's been a huge debate among the Sun Devil fanbase on that topic. ASU fans are by nature a very fickle and fairweather bunch, so during the first six weeks, they were ready to deify Todd Graham.
Now that there is some adversity, many are hopping off the bandwagon. However, the diehards understand that this is just Year One of a lengthy process. The Sun Devil program was a total mess in the wake of last season and the Erickson firing, and while significant progress has been made, and many feel the work is ahead of schedule, there remains a long way to go.
Following up on that, how is recruiting going under Graham? Are the recruits you are targeting impressed with the prospects of being a Sun Devil in the years to come?
This is one of the areas in which Graham and staff has excelled. It started this past February when he landed DJ Foster, the state's top recruit, which was notable for two reasons. First, he's a helluva player, but secondly, he was a local talent, and keeping Arizona's top talent in state was an area that ASU consistently failed under Erickson.
This upcoming class is shaping up very well, with the Chans Cox, Arizona's top 2013 prospect, secured, and he's already landed a number of strong verbal commits. Another encouraging sign is that he's having success in areas in which ASU has struggled, like Texas and Florida.
Finally, for Arizona St. to come out of Corvallis with a win, what do you believe absolutely has to happen? And based on what you have seen so far this season, what possibility is most likely to cost the Sun Devils the game if they do lose?
For the Sun Devils to score the win, they'll need to play a near-perfect game while also forcing OSU into some mistakes of their own. I think that Kelly, Foster and company should be able to score some points, but the Sun Devil defense worries me. The return of Sutton is critical, but even if he does play, he'll likely be less than 100%.
The secondary remains suspect, and I don't think they match-up well with the explosive duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. If ASU avoids any turnovers and is able to rattle Vaz into some of his own, the Sun Devils have a great chance. Unfortunately for ASU fans, I think the Sun Devils will come up just short.
Thanks, Brad! It should be a very interesting contest on a number of levels!